It’s safe to wager that an astronomical majority of sexually active people in the U.S. have indulged in intercourse under the influence of some type of drug. Alcohol quickly comes to mind. Nicotine and caffeine are also age-old pleasure drugs which have been part of populating the planet for centuries.
Prescription pharmaceutical drugs are a more recent affair. Their consumption continues to rise. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. take at least one prescription drug, up from a third 12 years ago, according to The National Center for Health Statistics. Twenty percent take three or more. Ten percent take five or more. Pain relief drugs lead all other drug classes by a country mile, consumed three times more often than high blood pressure, anti-cholesterol, or birth control medications.
What a prescription drug does to your sex life is generally clumped up into one result: You may not be able to, or want to, have sex. Watch any commercial for a prescription drug—no matter what it’s supposed to do—and the disclaimer likely warns of “possible sexual side-effects.” This tells us little, and becomes a bigger dice-roll when the final caveat is “Individual results may vary.”
A clear picture of how prescription drugs affect sex requires the scientific method—a variable and a control, one person willing to take all the drugs while having sex with the same person.
In 2004 my wife was stricken with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder which causes the immune system to attack the body’s nervous system. The disorder unfortunately gave my wife an all-you-can-eat buffet of prescription drugs.
First, doctors prescribed Vicodin, a class of acetaminophen which is essentially supercharged Tylenol. Vicodin is bad for your liver but made my wife more sexually aroused. She told me her skin felt like a sex organ and she had orgasms when I simply caressed her breasts. Vicodin also made her want to be photographed nude, a desire she’d never shared before.
Doctors soon moved her up to Valium, a form of diazepam which sits on the fence between anti-anxiety medication and muscle relaxant. I put my camera away at this point because she suddenly preferred being covered with a sheet, or wearing a long T-shirt during sex. I couldn’t roll her over or have her get on top of me. She’d often freak out when I was engaging in foreplay and impatiently say, “Just stick it in, baby”; or lose interest mid-stream and ask, “Do you still love me?”
Antidepressants came next, prescribed for their anti-inflammatory properties which reduce muscle pain. The prescription was fluoxetine, better known as Prozac, a drug that increases serotonin in the brain for mental balance. This taken on top of the diazepam literally made my wife’s vagina fall asleep. She reported feeling no sensation from her clitoris. Void of sensation, she would get mad at her body, and this killed sex in its tracks. She grew distant and would stare into my eyes like her body had been taken over by an alien life form. She soon dropped Prozac altogether.
Then came Xanaflex, generic for tizanidine, a class of drug known as a skeletal muscle relaxant developed for multiple sclerosis. This drug made my wife masturbate like a teenage boy with a stolen copy of Playboy. She increasingly became interested in her own body. Even when she was asleep. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to find her out cold but furiously masturbating. I’d lie there and masturbate watching her. It’s difficult to say this was not good sex in an unconventional way.
Neurontin, or Gabapentin, is one of those strange drugs in a class called anticonvulsants. Widely prescribed for restless leg syndrome, you down Neurontin by the fistful like Chiclets. The drug changes the way the body senses pain, but no one really knows how it works. Sexually, there was no change other than, strangely enough, timing. My wife on Neurontin wanted sex earlier and earlier in the day. This was a profound change and easy to notice.
Most of these medications had a drowsiness effect on my wife so in came Adderall, an amphetamine in the drug class of central nervous system stimulates. She stopped taking it almost immediately because she lost all interest in sex, ground her teeth at night, and felt paranoid.
Finally came methadone, an opiate (narcotic) analgesic.
If you can overcome the stigma of walking into your local pharmacy to fill the tablet prescription, and overlook the constant sleeping, the weight gain from snacking, and the constipation, methadone actually puts the patient in a groove that fosters consistently good sex. My wife’s inhibitions were gone, her libido was world-class, and a very selfish part of me hoped her illness would never go away.
Here is our concerted sentiment about the drugs we have experienced and their affects: